Whether you're a seasoned or first-time home buyer, be prepared to know your FICO score and have a firm understanding of your credit history. And if you're buying with another person, their credit history can affect your joint home purchase.

What is a FICO score?

First things first - what's a FICO score and why does it matter? FICO is an acronym for the Fair Isaac Corporation, the company that developed the most commonly used credit scoring system. Everyone is assigned a number ranging from 300 to 850. The number assesses your credit worthiness through previous payment history, current debt, length of credit history, types of credit and new credit. For the purpose of buying a home or obtaining a loan, it's the score most commonly used by lenders to determine the borrower's level of risk. Many people simply refer to the FICO score as "credit score," so we'll do that moving forward.

Which score do lenders look at?

Typically, your lender will look at three credit scores reported from each of the three credit bureaus - Experian, TransUnion and Equifax - and then take the median score of the three for your application. Borrowers should hope for at least a 680, which is generally the minimum score for getting approved for conventional loans. For borrowers with lower credit scores, FHA loans allow a 580 score, or even as low as 500 if a 10 percent down payment is made. In any case, the higher the score, the better interest rate you'll be offered.

Should I apply with my spouse or alone?

Deciding whether or not to include a spouse or a co-borrower on a mortgage application often comes down to whether it makes the most financial sense. There's not a ton of wiggle room when it comes to qualifying for a loan. You typically qualify or you don't. If the only way you can qualify for the loan is by applying jointly to include the total income of both borrowers, then that might be your only option. But even if your credit and income are good enough to qualify for a loan on your own, applying together still might be a better option, as each scenario has its tradeoffs.

My partner has bad credit

When applying jointly, lenders use the lowest credit score of the two borrowers. So, if your median score is a 780 but your partner's is a 620, lenders will base interest rates off that lower score. This is when it might make more sense to apply on your own. The downside in applying alone, however, limits you to just your income and not the combined amount from you and your partner. While your credit score might be better, having a lender evaluate you on only your income could lower the total loan amount you qualify for. If having your name on the home is a big deal, don't worry. You can still be on the title of the home, just not on the mortgage.
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Related: The post How Do Co-Borrowers' Credit Scores Affect a Home Purchase? appeared first on Zillow Porchlight.
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